Q: About a year ago, I started working as a consultant after a layoff. To my surprise, I like it. However, I feel like I have two full-time jobs: finding the work and doing the work. Is this normal? How do I balance it? — Andy, 44, strategic planner
A: This is the life of a consultant.
There is a lot to balance when you are running your own business, even a small solo consultancy.
A successful approach builds in flexibility and acknowledges the ups and downs inherent in your workflow.
For most people in your situation, the “doing the work” part is most engaging. It is, after all, the part that involves the key value and skill you bring to the market. The temptation may be in focusing on this to the exclusion of the other aspects of managing a business.
While you want to meet your customers’ needs, be sure you are not overdoing it. If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, you may find that it becomes a procrastination technique.
Also be careful to resist scope creep, where you add work that isn’t built into your agreement. This isn’t sustainable.
You can mitigate these tendencies by talking through client needs so that you have an understanding of their expectations. This also will help build return business.
The second key area, as you mentioned, is finding work. Think in terms of multichannel development. Network at professional events, with past colleagues, and through developing a reputation for expertise through speaking and writing.
Recognize that this needs to be ongoing. So, even if you are really busy with project work, you need to keep making time for it.
As a result, some times may be uncomfortably busy. It goes with the territory. This pattern can be managed if you let yourself catch your breath a little during slower times rather than stressing over it.
There’s a third area that can eat up a lot of time and energy. That is the administrative aspect of having a business.
Unless you are an expert in many things, it’s a good idea to outsource. For example, consider having an accountant to help with taxes and other financial matters. It lowers risk and helps you manage your time.
Self-care is key. Find ways to separate yourself from work sometimes. Maybe you will prefer a coworking space to be out of the house and near other professionals. If not, be able at least to close your door and turn off your phone.
You will undoubtedly put in evening and weekend work. It’s OK, as long as you give yourself freedom to enjoy an occasional Tuesday off.
Don’t neglect family and friends. Remember that you are not just a businessperson and entrepreneur, you are a complete human. You need to nourish body, mind and spirit.
Keep taking stock as time goes on, noticing what is working best and building on that, and trying new things to find the best possible balance.